Should Computers be Programmed to Forget?

April 27, 2007

How much should computers remember and how much should they forget? Kennedy School associate professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger explores this question in a new Working Paper titled "Useful Void: The Art of Forgetting in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing."
Mayer-Schönberger argues in favor of what he terms "data ecology," by which computer systems would be programmed by default to regularly flush personal information rather than storing it for long periods of time.
"Google saves every search query, and millions of video surveillance cameras retain our movements," Mayer-Schönberger writes. "In this article I propose a simple rule that reinstates the default of forgetting that our societies have experienced for millennia, and I show how a combination of law and technology can achieve this shift."
Mayer-Schönberger is associate professor of public policy at the Kennedy School. His research focuses on information and communication technology policy as well as European Union and transatlantic issues. In 1986, he founded Ikarus Software, a company focusing on data security.
Access the Working Paper, "Useful Void: The Art of Forgetting in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing." on the Kennedy School Working Papers website. The active URL for this paper is:http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP07-022

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